Taking the New Normal for a Spin

Burned Out Four

Valley Fire 2015

Lake County, California

We flew south from Seattle to Burbank arriving over the Thomas Fire where the blaze had just crossed from Ventura into Santa Barbara County. Last summer’s dry season never came to an end. Instead this fall the Southland of California was treated to twenty degree above normal temperatures, low humidity and then the voluble Santa Ana winds.

Last nights flight down the coast was crystal clear, picture perfect. While cool in Seattle less average was the clear sky. Less than common still was the monolithic singular cloudless atmosphere witnessed the entire length of the west coast. As we approached Burbank after sunset we descended over the top of Los Padres National Forest. Looking down off the starboard side of the plane we could see flames approaching Carpentaria and further north near Montecito. The fire had in just twenty-four hours consumed another one-hundred-thousand acres with the most inhabited of those yet to be consumed acres in sight. Both densely populated communities are thickly canopied and in any other moment would be regarded as blessed with a handsome landscape. Not visible were the five thousand firefighters who had cut fire breaks. Standing along the break they braced to snuff out blowing embers that might escape from the national forest and ignite a blaze within the city limits of the two communities. Thousands had been order evacuated. The Department of Homeland Security had no answer to this terror threat.

There have always been wildfires, but there had always been a time of year associated with the fires. In decades before the present California had grown to near forty million citizens. In past times the wildfires happened out there in the wildlands far from the California car crazed maddened clogging crowds. An unintentional a price had come due for our obsessive horizontal sprawling real estate development. And as we all know Mother Nature bats last in the game called life. In this instance wildfire had come to speak about the risks homeowners take when locating their domicile adjacent to a tender dry fuel loaded landscape that with one accidental spark and aided by an ill-timed windstorm can ignite an inferno of unstoppable proportions.

My much loved daughter in Seattle and her partner have put off any thought of having children. Even at just twenty-five they’ve recognized and noted that the climate has changed, they know that the world is in trouble and the trouble that most concerns them is the trouble people make for the people who take climate change as a real and present threat. Stalemates are quaint even useful on a chessboard and existentially suicidal when played on the surface of the earth.

Puerto Rico is in super hurricane ruins, barely able to function, its electrical grid destroyed. Houston pounded by rains and floods- turned into a lake and now is mecca for slightly water damaged furniture. California not to be outdone has put on a wildfire show unlike any other. How we react, what we do, the planning and precautions we might take will tell us all we need to know about how smart, how intelligent, how adaptive and resilient our species is. Stalemate and gridlock might be a useful tactic in our nations capital but it won’t work here. If ever the world needed enlightened leadership now is that moment. If you are an optimist it is never too late, for the pessimists it already is, either way Mother Nature doesn’t care. Facts speak for themselves.

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Piece of Reality Prior to Wildfire

 

The Invisible-Glorious-Full-Stop

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Start from Where You Find Yourself

Here on the rotisserie in LA it is expected to go triple digits. For one hot second I’d deluded myself into believing the autumnal equinox had passed, summer was over and that Trump would have folded like a cheap piece of patio furniture by now.

As far as trifecta’s go I’m a raving savant.

The future is akin to a plane on autopilot. Doors locked, we can’t get in, there’s a mountain dead ahead. Believe me I’d rather be on a beach listening to Kenny G, reading my GQ while sipping on my first extra dry-stirred not shaken- Sapphire martini.

Is it just me? Yes, it is evidently just me. Everyone else I know wants beachfront property, doesn’t believe in tsunami’s and dismisses the reports of Antarctica’s demise as premature. Even displaced polar bears sighted south of their ancestral range turns out to be attributed to nothing more than advances in ecotourism.

Even my chakra’s, all seven have told me to just take a chill pill, stop worrying, it’s all coming to an end, but it’s a great ending without the Koch’s, Trump’s or Murdock’s surviving any of what they’ve so fervently wrought.

Today my car still starts, radio works and I know where the hell I’m going for at least the moment. Having been a pilot of the prairie, the daring-do-dude of the desert I can unplug the plug-in-hybrid and go. Blinkered, emotionally bombed out- gutted like a cathedral under renovation I can take my sorry-to-have-to-do-this-to-you-self out into the vast emptiness of the terrifying void where I’ll try to find a can of start-over.

So, there you are and here we go. To the barricades. Helmet on, optimism thermostat turned to full on. The scout will sprint ahead looking for a plausible path through the impasse. Probably to be found under a rock, at the counter of a country store, or maybe locked inside my heart of hearts. I haven’t looked there in a while. Must be a key to my soul somewhere.

 

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The Sign I’ve Been Looking For

 

 

The Longest Running Show on Earth

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Late Summer Telegraph Hill, San Francisco

 

The severity of the climate change induced wildfires in the winegrowing region of Northern California comes as no surprise. Lake County’s record breaking Valley Fire of 2015 remains an all too fresh memory. The unholy alliance between real estate developers and the bipartisan business friendly politicians have been paid to ignore the calls for a more sustainable growth model. The only obstacle they have had to overcome on their way to this day were environmental organizations and voters who have been urgently sounding the alarm on unchecked sprawl, traffic choked highways and a perilous all too visible decline in the quality of life.

With the end of American frontier an all but ‘un fait accompli,’ the rush to plant more wine in the teeth of the just broken five year drought could not have been a more ill-considered act. The much put upon planning commissioners, supervisors, and regional water regulators have been incapable of staring down the powerful agriculture lobby while they have been pressing their thumb on the scale for more vineyards, more wineries and more development.

All the money in the world can’t put down the danger to the drought damaged region when the inevitable hazardous autumn red flag warnings arise. Puerto Rico having taken a direct hit from Hurricane Maria remains in shambles three weeks after without any of our authorities having taken a moment to wonder if under the influence of climate-change the region is not anything other than another target on a map for a future super hurricane to come clobber yet again and again. We can’t think that far ahead because we have defunded and discredited the very scientists and engineers we are going to need to rely upon to devise a way out of this collision course we are on with Mother Nature.

Whether you believe in climate change or not is very much beside the point. There are super sized forces in the tangible Universe being unleashed and roaring down upon us. After the fact our rescue and rebuilding efforts may be welcomed but these costly interventions are being made all the more necessary as we put off our collective humanity making a globally coordinated effort and respond to the carbon addicted behaviors that are much the cause for the calamitous events the people the world over now face.

I live here in California. I admire much of what this state has done, but I am not in total awe. Like any other region or kingdom money rules the day rather than the interests of concerned citizens looking at the problems. Without favor or financial interest ordinary citizens can see through the smog shrouded windshield of their lives and that a more sustainable path needs to be reconciled with democracy and capitalism. A key part of what more needs to be done is to leave what has not yet been spoiled alone. Leave water in the ground and our trees standing on the mountains. When a regions carrying capacity hits full we need  our leaders to put a halt to further growth until we have a workable plan. We’ll need to employ conservation techniques, more vertical housing, deploy new and cleaner methods of mass transportation. We are all going have to surrender to the common good and give something back to the place we call home.

Money as they say is “speech.”. But money is a fallible one-dimensional speech that influences civilization at its extinction inducing peril. Clear as a bell and cold as a winter day the affairs of our world have reached the point where the best path forward be plotted and planned by a more carefully considered forum of enlightened interests. Money as a one trick pony is going the way of the Ringling Brothers beloved famous elephants. And as well all know the longest running show on earth is over…

Wildfires in Northern California

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Scenes from Arson Instigated Fire in Lake County

Valley Fire, September 2015

Intending to begin my fourth novel at Calistoga’s famed dirt racing oval I was instead shocked to find the fairgrounds transformed into a shelter for the evacuees of the deadly and destructive Valley Fire of Lake County. The famed racetrack where the motorcycle championship riders would have been competing was their next to last stop on their way to the season ending Las Vegas finale. Arson and climate change induced drought forever cancelled those races and altered the trajectory of my plotting of Women of the Oak Savannahs. Now the destructive and deadly fires of 2017, in part the result of the same out of control development, chronic water shortages  and drought stricken arid landscape I have been writing about have vaulted my fictitious characters from the page and have been brought to life as gut-wrenching  non-fiction fact. I didn’t want to write about climate change. I didn’t want to write about overdevelopment. I had the story handed to me by stubborn politics, rapacious real estate developers and a handful of committed environmental activists standing up trying to sound the alarm. Here is the opening to my all but complete still in editing fourth novel…

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Valley Fire, Lake County

September 19, 2015

High aloft the aerialist gripped the climbing rope. Beyond a brownish orange sun went lost in a smoke filled sky. Helicopters, Super-Huey’s thump-thump-thumped eastward to the front. In the tumult of the still out of control wildfire the aerialist startled the audience with a swift descent back to the ground. The rhinestone bejeweled woman slipped one foot then the other into her glittering silver clogs. Each knee-high-stride was accent, twirling her palms face up, she tickled the ovation with her fingertips. The incessant droning of the Grumman Air-tankers crisscrossing the sky mixed with the audience’s anxious murmurs. Within the respite of the struggle to survive a showgirl’s smile simmered across her lips. The heavy oppression of the air reeking of acrid smoke pressed a sorrowful reality down upon the fairground. Jo assumed a dancer’s first position, her concentration slipping away, mind wandering, locking eyes with the motorcycle racer for one part of one instant, then in the next breath the performing artist vanished out of the light away into the night.

“You want to unfasten me?” Jo was standing backstage on the other side of a pickup truck. She was peeling her full figure out of her costume. By design the garment fit skintight. Piper tugging the flesh colored fabric together unlatched the hooks to the eyes along the seam running down her back.

“I thought the Deputy Sheriff was going to poke us with his night stick.” Jo said.

“He’s just gawking. It’s always something, our mascara, false eyelashes, our derrières.” Piper wiggled hers.

“Have you noticed how it is that white girls’ lives matter?”

“All lives matter.”

“The fair manager notified the Sheriff’s Department. She told them we were setting up for a show.” Jo rolled her eyes.

“They haven’t started shooting showgirls as far as I know.”

“Give the deputies a chance. We haven’t resisted arrest yet.”

“This is the wine country, we’re in Calistoga. Nothing but mud baths and chardonnay as far as an eye can see…”

“How about all those stretch limos full of binge drinkers? That’s what I want to wake up to, a five hundred dollar hangover.” Jo laughed. “That’s a headache and a pain in the ass wrapped up into one fan-fucking-tastic butt-ugly credit card bill.”

Children on tenterhooks, eight of them, old enough to play together so long as they didn’t stray too far from their parents’ watchful eyes, had come around from where they sat at the front of the audience to peek.

“They are such perfect pests.” Jo smiling at her admirers.

“They just want to grow up and be like you and me,” Piper said.

Jo wrapped her fingers around one wrist and then the other pumping her hand. She grimaced, “I’m glad we came out.” She scanned the dusk sky, “This has to be the hardest thing, performing for a fairground filled to the brim with heartbreak.”

Piper her understudy was elvish, shorter, blanketed with a pearl white skin, blue eyed, blonde hair said, “The audience had a chance to forget their problems, even if it was only for tonight. Nothing’s wrong with that. Life has to go on.”

Jo scrunched her nose and tilted her head grinning at her new fans. She wagged her finger like she was tickling the overcurious kids. They scattered giggling.

 

 

Going Your Own Way

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San Francisco Bay

The Catalans vote to separate from the federal center of power in Madrid, the British vote to exit the European Union are unmistakable indications that national governance is failing to protect its citizens from the barbarians of business and finance.

City of London types leveraged influence upon British Parliament tilting policy away from the rest of the nation’s in favor of banking’s international financial interests. Madrid during the run up to the financial crisis of a decade ago had gone on a real estate spree. The culprits in government, royalty and European banking had their fingerprints all over the collapse in housing prices.

Lobbyists fanned out decades ago with the aim to capture the regulatory apparatus located at the nation-states nerve center’s: London, Madrid and Washington DC among the many. Supervision and regulation of the transnational corporations was relaxed. Labor relationships were smothered while entrepreneurial individuality was encouraged. Profits went to the top while flat wages were sent to the working stiffs lower down on the pay scale.

Agents who had gone to the worlds leaders to purchase their agenda had sold their policies in the false assumption that these changes would be cost free.

Capitalism and democracy have proven to be a fragile alliance in the hyper-intense internet of information era. What is rotten is not forgotten so much as buried in a fire hose of more information tumbling forth virtually toward exhausted consumers of the human condition.

With central governments besieged voters are keenly aware that the collapse of the climate changing ecosystem is racing full speed ahead and there is nobody home to steer the ship of state.

Responding to the well oiled stalemates voters are deciding they would prefer power be exercised on the basis of regional interests. Californian’s do not much care for other regions views on abortion, immigration, or climate change. Renewable energy, electrification of the transportation system and clean air all seem more probably solved by the state government in Sacramento.

It is no wonder that consensus is breaking down. While regional differences grow shrill shouts go out for separating from centralized political power. Head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, and the petroleum centric state of Oklahoma he has long represented is not a suitable policy interface for anything other than the multinational corporations he devotedly serves. The business friendly fringe responds by ignoring a world with problems they have no answers for. In the minds of an ever increasing percentage of voters if this is the case there is no reason to remain.

 

 

Paid Well Enough to Not See it Coming…

For 25 years, I have written about the social and natural evolution of Napa, a diverse county that includes rare and valuable biological “hotspots” and 140,000 people, most of whom are associated with what’s now referred to as the wine “industry.” During that time, I have learned something about developers.

Foremost is the fact that inside all of them is a 6-year-old kid dying to get out and dig a really deep hole. When they finally do get to do so, they fill the hole up with something that wasn’t there before and then repeat the experience with minor variations ad infinitum.

More disturbing, with far-reaching ramifications for all Americans, is the other fact: developers deeply, irrationally, and often vindictively resent anyone who objects to their plans, for whatever reason. This includes neighbors, citizens, scientists, clergy, and elected officials. But none receive more opprobrium than “environmentalists.”

James Conaway, Opinion Piece in Napa Register Guard May 26, 2017

http://napavalleyregister.com/wine/land-use-wine-and-trump/article_e093b513-692f-5da9-ae76-d908161b6e5f.html

 

Beyond the Present

Napa County’s 140,000 citizen’s can’t halt the torrential rain of developers arriving here with plans to build. If you are keeping score at home the developers remain unbeaten. Among the wealthiest among us a trophy property in this famed wine region is an essential element to any property portfolio. Government is controlled by Big Ag. You may want to be on the Board of Supervisor’s only if the wine industry deems your vote as sympathetic to the cause and your spine sufficiently pliant.

The velocity of the pillaging has only increased with land prices. Ordinary folk are squeezed out. The wealthiest among us grouse about not being able to land helicopters at “our” vineyards. They are crestfallen to learn their original 20,000 square foot chateau’s are going to be needlessly scaled back.

All this desecration is taking place before a numb and distracted public. Big money drowns the popular will. Getting in the way of the juggernaut risks personal ruin.  Fish extinction events are in the history books now. Childhood cancer rates are the worst in the state and remain under study while astute players continue to spray pesticides and resist regulation. Water tables are fragile and any slowdown in pumping of groundwater is deemed unnecessary. With the valley built out what remains is now under threat.

That’s the score. This is the truth beneath the veneer. The barons of big business can’t help themselves and the ordinary citizens are so far unable to organize and stop them. The denial is soon to come to a bitter ecosystem induced end that nobody paid well enough to look the other way ever saw coming.

Billionaires Know Everything

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Our Common Humanity Rising Up Against Power

Science historian Naomi Oreskes of Harvard University speaking at the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco on January 6, 2017 when asked what can we do about climate change said this. “Don’t build any more pipelines, keep the oil and coal in the ground, and end Federal tax subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.”

We know that solar is the cheapest way to make a watt of electricity now. We know that the electrification of our transportation system is irreversible. We know that regenerative farming techniques can capture more carbon and rebuild depleted soils. We know that agriculture hasn’t even started to deploy laser leveling of fields and drip water irrigation systems on a large scale.

The problems mankind faces is that we can’t quite organize ourselves in a market based system that rewards the producers and consumers to choose the best long term technologies, to earn less now but to save our one earth so that future generations may have a healthy and sustainable planet to further humanities quest to thrive over the coming  millions of millennia.

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Los Angeles Public Library  Light Fixture

Big time is about thinking in terms beyond our current generations lifespans. In eighty plus years we can only begin to imagine what a thousand years from now might mean. But, that is our task. We owe our brothers and sisters of the future a chance at coming here and advancing our experiment with intelligent life.

I am not unique. To express ourselves to the challenge we need to advance those technologies that give our future a chance. This isn’t difficult. We all know what to do. Our current social, economic, and political system is out of date. The formula that got us here isn’t the set of ideas and systems that is going to get us to the future.

I’ll close with a bit from my latest novel, Women of the Oak Savannahs

“You want your country to be like you, you want us all to be losers… fat, short, educated, liberal losers. I’ll never be a loser. Never! I don’t know how to lose. Put that on your front page. Make that your headline. Tell them the goddamn truth for once. Spare your readers stories of my prowess in bed, why bore your readers by stating the obvious. How it is that a young, beautiful South American woman who asked to spend time with me, to dine, to dance and drink the finest wines with me, took me into her heart, fell in love, and surrendered her life to me. Tell your readers the truth, and the truth is, you know nothing about life, and a billionaire knows everything.”

Grayson Gale, Gale Vineyards

Napa Valley